CRTC to review internet billing decision

The CRTC will review its decision to implement usage-based billing for smaller internet providers, chair Konrad von Finckenstein says.
CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein arrives to testify Thursday before the House of Commons industry committee on the billing practices of internet providers. ((Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press))

The CRTC will review its decision to implement usage-based billing for smaller internet providers, chair Konrad von Finckenstein said Thursday.

Testifying before the Commons committee on industry, von Finckenstein said the decision to review the ruling and delay the implementation of usage-based billing for smaller internet providers was made Wednesday afternoon.

Many small internet companies rent network access from Bell and then resell it to consumers or businesses at a discount. These small companies had been able to offer their customers unlimited internet access at a set rate.

But the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission recently ruled in favour of Bell, which wanted to put usage caps on the companies that rent its internet access. None of the big internet service providers such as Bell offers unlimited plans.

The ruling means these smaller internet service providers can no longer offer unlimited usage plans. Once usage-based billing is implemented, their customers would have to pay based on how much data they upload to and download from the internet.

Consumer and internet advocate groups had been lobbying hard against the decision, which they said would lead to higher prices and snuff out competition among internet service providers (ISPs.)

By the time von Finckenstein began his committee appearance Thursday, more than 388,000 Canadians had signed a petition against usage-based billing drafted by, a non-partisan group.

Review was CRTC's decision: chair

Industry Minister Tony Clement said Wednesday that if the CRTC didn't reverse its decision, the government would.

But von Finckenstein said the review was the CRTC's decision and was made in response to concern from Canadians in addition to a request from Bell to delay the implementation.

Clement pushed back hard against the regulator's original ruling throughout the afternoon and took evident pleasure in its review. After the committee hearing, he told reporters:

"Here's the nub of the issue: there are providers now who have that pay-as-you-go system, over 25 gigabytes, let's say. What this decision was trying to do was to force down the throats of every single internet service provider that very same business model .…

"We believe there should be choice. If an internet service provider wants to offer unlimited access for a flat fee, they should be allowed to offer that."

Asked earlier by the CBC's Evan Solomon if the CRTC is still a relevant institution, Clement said, "That's a very good question.

"Certainly there is a role to have an independent set of ears and eyes to look at some of these regulatory issues, but I also believe … the government … has a role to play to set the policy that is going to make sure that Canada remains relevant and competitive in the internet age."

Liberal MP Marc Garneau asked earlier whether Clement had surprised von Finckenstein with his announcement that the government would overturn the CRTC's ruling.

Clement had made that announcement on Twitter in response to a question from the CBC's Rosemary Barton.

Von Finckenstein said he learned about Clement's tweet in the newspaper Thursday morning, and that he'd had no contact with the government since the initial announcement of the CRTC's ruling.

"I don't agree with the government," he said. "The vast majority of internet users should not be forced to subsidize heavy users."

According to Bell Canada, less than 14 per cent of internet users account for more than 83 per cent of the traffic, he said.